No institution except NAB cooperated with Broadsheet inquiry commission: report

Published April 1, 2021
Retired Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh comprised the one-man commission constituted to investigate the Broadsheet scandal. — Photo Courtesy: SC website/File
Retired Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh comprised the one-man commission constituted to investigate the Broadsheet scandal. — Photo Courtesy: SC website/File

The one-man inquiry commission constituted to investigate the Broadsheet scandal said in its report that no institution except the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cooperated with it.

The commission, comprising retired Supreme Court Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh, said that the record related to UK-based firm Broadsheet LLC was "missing almost everywhere including the Pakistan High Commission in London".

The head of the mission did "not consider it necessary" to record the statements of Broadsheet owner Kaveh Moussavi and Tariq Fawad Malik who was part of the firm's team in Pakistan.

The commission was formed to probe the execution of contract and payments to Broadsheet LLC in connection with investigation into offshore properties of Pakistani politicians.

The commission completed the probe on March 23 and submitted its report to the Prime Minister's Office.

The report is comprised of 61 pages and about 500 more pages are annexed to the report as documents and statements of witnesses.

According to the report, "Even before the commission could become functional upon provision of office space and staff [...] the bureaucracy went into a self-preservation mode and withdrew into its shell like a threatened snail.

"The level of non-cooperation from the various ministries/divisions/departments would have made Gandhi proud. Every effort was made to conceal, hide and 'misplace' the relevant record in a rather obvious effort to cover up the incompetence and corruption of the present incumbents, their predecessors and political benefactors."

It added that the government's asset recovery agreement with Broadsheet was "proof of government institutions' not understanding international law".

Moussavi was a "convicted person" who had levelled allegations against certain personalities, the report said.

Investigation of those allegations was not included in the commission's terms of reference (ToRs), it said, adding that the government could investigate if it wanted.

It observed that 12 diplomatic cartons containing the record related to Swiss accounts were currently with the NAB and the anti-graft watchdog could analyse whether the record would be useful.

In 2009, then Pakistani high commissioner in the United Kingdom Wajid Shamsul Hasan had reportedly received the 12 cartons comprising original documents and evidence against some Pakistani high-ups in a Swiss money laundering case.

The report stated that the government system had "caused dishonour and monetary loss" for the country and recommended changes in the Rules of Business.

"Political pressure often becomes the cause of authorities making wrong decisions," it said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had ordered the report to be made public, following which, the report was released today.

Six-week inquiry

During the six-week inquiry, the commission recorded statements of 26 witnesses, including four former chairpersons of the NAB, ­which included three former three-star generals namely retired Lt Gen Mohammad Amjad, Lt Gen Khalid Maqbool and Lt Gen Munir Hafeez. The commission also recorded the statement of former NAB chairman Naveed Ahsan. Former and incumbent federal secretaries also testified before the commission.

The main objective of the committee was to investigate reports of UK-based assets recovery firm Broadsheet on corruption allegedly committed by over 200 Pakistani nationals, including politicians, bureaucrats and military personnel, in 45 days.

The Cabinet Division had on Jan 29 issued a notification about the commission of inquiry along with its terms of references.

According to the notification, the commission was empowered to constitute committees consisting of government officials and experts.

The federal cabinet agreed to form the one-man commission under the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 2017, with a broader mandate.

The commission examined the contracts signed by NAB with Broadsheet LLC and other international asset recovery firms to unearth foreign assets made by Pakistanis through the ill-gotten money.

'Darkest era of NAB'

Addressing a post-cabinet meeting press conference on Thursday, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry detailed some of the findings of the Broadsheet commission.

He said as per the report, "criminal action" will be taken against five people immediately: Ahmer Bilal Soofi; Hassan Saqib Sheikh, who is currently with the Federal Board of Revenue; former joint secretary of the Ministry of Law Ghulam Rasool; former deputy high commissioner to the UK Abdul Basit; Shahid Ali Baig, who was the director audit and accounts at the Pakistan High Commission in London at the time; and Tariq Fawad Malik, who had facilitated the signing of the Broadsheet contract.

"The Broadsheet commission has declared these five men as the main accused in its report," Chaudhry told the presser, adding that the commission had termed the period between 2011 and 2017 as "the darkest era of NAB" with regards to the bureau's administration and the accountability process of that time.

Chaudhry said it was due to the "criminal negligence" of then-NAB chairman Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry and the prosecutors general and other officials at the time that "Swiss accounts and their documents disappeared [from the records] and people didn't even find out".

He added that the Broadsheet commission had now recommended determining the criminal liability of Zaman and other senior officials at the time for allegedly destroying or hiding evidence.

The minister claimed that PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and the rest of the party leadership had been acquitted in the corruption cases against them "because it was said that NAB does not have the original record of Swiss accounts", saying this was "a blatant lie".

"We are thankful to Justice Azmat Saeed who discovered the original record and now the government has the original record of Swiss accounts. And on that basis, the Swiss accounts [case] can be reopened against Zardari sahib again and our legal team is reviewing that," he added.

Broadsheet saga

Broadsheet LLC, a UK company that was registered in the Isle of Man in the Pervez Musharraf era, helped the then government and the newly established NAB track down foreign assets purchased by Pakistanis through alleged ill-gotten wealth.

Broadsheet claimed that it was established to enter into an Asset Recovery Agreement dated June 20, 2000, and did so with the then president of Pakistan, through the NAB chairman, for the purposes of recovering funds and other assets fraudulently taken from the state and other institutions, including through corrupt practices, and held outside of Pakistan.

Broadsheet maintains that it was created to be a company specialising in the recovery of assets and funds, and was therefore engaged to trace, locate and transfer such items back to the state.

After NAB terminated the contract in 2003, Broadsheet and another company involved as a third party filed for damages, saying Pakistan owed them money according to the terms agreed upon since the government was taking action to confiscate some of the assets they had identified, including the Avenfield property owned by the Sharif family.

The companies' claims against Pakistan were held valid by an arbitration court and later by a United Kingdom high court that gave an award of over $28 million against Pakistan last year.

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